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Nathaniel Fujita found guilty in Wayland murder

WOBURN — Moments after Nathaniel Fujita was convicted of murdering Malcolm Astley’s only child, the bereft father stepped out of the protective circle of his family and friends and walked toward the killer’s parents, who stood silently on the opposite side of the courtroom.

As he opened his arms, they leaned in and wept.

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The embrace lasted for less than a minute. Then, Astley turned and walked out, leaving the Fujitas to face their own grief.

The verdict came Thursday after three weeks of testimony in Middlesex Superior Court about the night of July 3, 2011, when Fujita lured his former high school girlfriend, Lauren Astley, to his Wayland home and then beat, strangled, and slashed the 18-year-old to death in his garage.

Judge Peter Lauriat sentenced Fujita, 20, to life in prison without parole after a jury of eight men and four women found him guilty of first-degree murder with premeditation and extreme atrocity.

The verdict was a rejection of the defense’s argument that Fujita was psychotic at the time of the killing and therefore not criminally responsible. Prosecutors said Fujita was simply enraged after Astley broke up with him.

Malcolm Astley embraced Tomo Fujita and his wife, Beth Mattingly-Fujita, on Thursday after the verdict.

Ken McGagh/MetroWest Daily News via associated press/pool

Malcolm Astley embraced Tomo Fujita and his wife, Beth Mattingly-Fujita, on Thursday after the verdict.

“There is hardly a day still after nearly two years when I, and I think her mother, do not sob over some aspect of the loss of Lauren or the affronts she experienced,” Malcolm Astley said during his victim impact statement before sentencing.

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“Her personal losses, such as the end of a chance to sing beautifully; to build a future through Elon University; to bring forth another family generation, since the eggs inside her have also died along with her chance to be a mother; the extreme pain and fear I believe she experienced in death; the loss of Nate as I and she thought we knew him.”

Astley, whose compassion in the wake of his daughter’s murder has stunned many, called on Fujita to apologize “deeply and repeatedly” for his crime, and to atone for it by working to end violence against women.

Astley and his former wife formed the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund after their daughter’s death, which supports programs to promote healthy teen relationships, as well as the arts and community service.

Astley told The Globe last year that he kept in touch with Fujita’s mother after the slaying, until lawyers advised them both to stop communicating

Lauren Astley and Fujita had dated throughout high school; their families had been close.

Both had seemed on the cusp of bright lives — he, a football star accepted early to Trinity College, and she a talented singer who had already picked out her college roommates.

Astley’s slaying rocked Wayland, a small suburb of about 13,000, and every day of the trial, the courtroom was packed with people who knew her.

Fujita, who alternated between stoic silence and sobs throughout the trial, stood silently as jurors read out their verdict.

He put his head down as Astley’s parents read their impact statements.

Lauren Astley was recalled as a talented singer who was headed for college.

Lauren Astley was recalled as a talented singer who was headed for college.

“I am Lauren Dunne Astley’s mother. But never again will I be called mom, or mommy or mother,” said Mary Dunne in her statement. “Lauren was my only child, and she brought instant light and joy into my life. She grew into a young woman with many talents: but what I treasured most about her was her uncanny ability to draw people into her circle.

“I also treasured and miss her voice desperately. Whether singing or pleading for a new pair of shoes, her voice was lovely. But now there is silence.”

The last moments of Astley’s life, detailed again and again during the trial, haunt her, Dunne said.

“They torment me and I feel powerless to stop them.”

Fujita’s lawyer, William Sullivan, did not dispute during the trial that his client had killed Astley, but argued that Fujita was experiencing a “brief psychotic episode” and could not control his actions.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Wade Myers testified for the defense that in the weeks leading up to the killing, Fujita had slipped into a severe depression and was self-medicating with marijuana. Years of head injuries from football had left Fujita with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which made him vulnerable to a break with reality, Myers said.

But testimony from Fujita’s own family contradicted his defense. His cousin, Caroline Saba, testified that the day before the killing, the two went to the beach together, and Fujita played catch, smoked marijuana, ate ice cream, and went shopping.

The day after the killing, while police searched his home, Fujita went to Saba’s house in Framingham and chatted with her about their childhood while sitting on her bed. She asked him if police would find anything at his house.

“He said, ‘They’re not gonna find a weapon there, if that’s what you mean,’ ” Saba testified.

Police officers described the Fujitas’ blood-spattered garage and the bloody clothing they found hidden in a crawl space in his bedroom; the medical examiner described the many slashes on Astley’s throat made so close together that he did not count them all.

Nathaniel Fujita entered the Middlesex Superior courtroom on Thursday before his sentencing. His defense that he was psychotic at the time of the killing was rejected.

Ken McGagh/MetroWest Daily News via associated press/pool

Nathaniel Fujita entered the Middlesex Superior courtroom on Thursday before his sentencing. His defense that he was psychotic at the time of the killing was rejected.

In addition to first-degree murder, Fujita was convicted of two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault and battery.

“We’re disappointed with the verdict,” Sullivan said at a press conference after the sentencing. “We knew that this was a possibility. We were hopeful that the jury would have been able to grasp and understand the depths of mental illness.”

Sullivan said his client was overwhelmed, and that it was not clear whether he would apologize, as Malcolm Astley asked.

“If there is ever going to be a conversation like that, it will not be done in public,” Sullivan said.

Appeal is automatic in first-degree murder convictions, and Sullivan said he believes he has grounds, though he did not specify them.

Fujita’s parents did not comment.

Prosecutor Lisa McGovern said at a press conference after the sentencing that she looked for a “message of hope in this horror.”

“Perhaps the foil here, the message is also that most men do not commit violence against women,” she said. “There are fathers in this case, the fathers of the beautiful women who you saw testify who are also disgusted by the idea that a man would use his strength in that way.”

Several police officers who worked on the case came to court during the trial.

At the press conference, with Astley’s parents standing behind him, Wayland Chief of Police Robert Irving said that though the end of the trial would not dull their pain, Wayland would remember their daughter.

“Might I suggest that on every Fourth of July, each of us have a moment of reflection,” he said, “to remember there once was a young woman who loved to sing, who graduated from Wayland High School with the Class of 2011, and was looking forward to going to college. Her name was Lauren Dunne Astley.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com.

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